Orchestras, ballet companies and opera companies - organizations that inspired construction of performing arts centers across America over the past 30 years - are being displaced from their homes, sometimes for months at a time, by presentations with a different aesthetic and a broader popularity: touring Broadway shows.
From Honolulu to Hartford, Conn.; from Tampa, Fla., to Tulsa, Okla., classical arts ensembles must now regularly search for alternative spaces to perform as shows like "Phantom of the Opera," "Les Miserables," "Beauty and the Beast" and "Miss Saigon" sell out the classical groups' usual sites and earn record profits. The classical troupes say they often lose hundreds of thousands of dollars in the process.The temporary exiles are all the more painful because many classical groups are already suffering from dropping subscription levels and aging audiences. Moreover, in many cities, performance centers, though owned and run by the municipalities, were built primarily for these groups with donations from their major patrons.
In Louisville, Ky., for example, "Beauty and the Beast" will take over the main theater of the Kentucky Center for the Arts for two months next year, forcing one of the center's original "resident" groups, the Louisville Orchestra, to play at a renovated movie theater run by the local Broadway presenter.
In Honolulu, "Miss Saigon" will displace the Honolulu Symphony from the city-run Blaisdell Concert Hall for three months of its centennial season in the fall of 1999.
Similar issues have arisen in nearly every city where there is one major arts complex and a sudden crush of interest in renting it, including Hartford, Des Moines, Iowa; Columbus, Ohio; and Charlotte, N.C.
Behind the squeeze is the growing success of Broadway road shows. Once a second-string adjunct to the Great White Way, the touring show has surpassed New York productions in economic impact in the last five years. Industry statistics analyzed by the League of American Theaters and Producers show that touring companies now bring in twice the annual revenue of Broadway shows.
The success has changed the balance of economic power in performing arts centers. But some leaders of arts centers argue that the Broadway boom indirectly helps other arts groups.
"Because Broadway does so well, the ramifications for performing arts centers are enormous," said Judith Lisi, the president of the Tampa arts center. "Broadway allows us to keep the rent for other concerts low."